The “Sob” Story: Discovering the Truth about Chocolate Advertising

The advertising of chocolate has historically influenced the way in which chocolate was consumed as a part of everyday life. Advertising messages in this category of the food industry through mass media in newspapers, magazines, television advertisements, or even youtube videos, has the power to educate consumers about why their product has a competitive advantage. Although mass media can bring greater awareness about chocolate to all parts of the world, there is a danger in false advertising. The knowledge about where or how chocolate is produced is unknown to most consumers. Therefore, chocolate companies take advantage of this mysterious process by releasing ads that exaggerate claims relating to the sourcing or making of chocolate. Why does the chocolate industry feel the need to portray false narratives about the chocolate making process? Close analysis of two chocolate advertisements suggest that chocolate ads include false depictions about chocolate making not necessarily to hide the truth about their practices, but as a result of the pressure by consumers who idealize chocolate as a luxury.

Cadbury’s Bournville commercial is one example in which Cadbury falsely advertised the way in which cocoa beans are harvested in order to portray an ideal of authenticity.  The first scene in the Cadbury’s Bournville Chocolate establishes the setting of the narrative to be in rural Ghana, the second largest producer of cocoa globally. Viewers are transported to the land of Ghana where we see cocoa farmers busy working outside a small shack on dusty mud roads. On the right of the frame are cocoa farmers stuffing bags of cocoa, and there is a farmer on the left delivering a bag of cocoa into a small house. From the first couple of seconds of this video, viewers are introduced to an agricultural, less developed setting of what many perceive to be as Africa. Associating the setting as Ghana already establishes a comforting feeling that your piece of chocolate originated from cocoa beans in an organically grown area.

In the next scene, viewers enter the house and see a white, British man, in a nice, clean, gray suit on one side of the table. He is examining a single cocoa bean with a magnifying glass, characterizing the size, aroma, and thus qualifying the bean as the “perfect Ghana cocoa”. This is ironic because on the other side of the table are tired looking Ghanaian farmers, in dirty clothes, waiting on each inspection. He places a single cocoa bean on the table in a pile among eight other beans to the left. The next cocoa bean that he judges, he qualifies it as “nothing” or not good enough according to his standards. The ‘nothing’ bean then starts to cry, which is a humorous and fantasy element that instantly distracts viewers from the power relationship between the British man who is judging the work of the cocoa farmers. The man then is driven off from the village in a Range Rover as the commercial concludes with the saying, “Only the best cocoa from Ghana goes into making a Bournville.” There are many elements from this advertisement that are concerning but the main disappointing element is the false portrayal of how companies collect cocoa beans.

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In order to combat this false portrayal, this following advertisement was created to criticize this exaggeration. The British man in the suit was the focus of this ad because of the contrast of this man in a clean expensive suit, even though his background reveals a cramped shack with worn down walls and dirty cabinets. “Made from the best cocoa inspected by one British dude in a suit” was written at the bottom to criticize this idea that a chocolate is of high quality because an executive has examined every single cocoa bean. No executive has the time to drive all the way to Ghana to inspect one cocoa bean at a time to ensure quality. Although cocoa is grown and harvested by Ghanian farmers, the cocoa is marketed to Western buyers by Ghana’s national cocoa marketing board. (http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/jfrankel/cocoa_in_ghana.pdf)

The situation in this entire commercial would never happen in real life, especially the idea of one cocoa bean crying. However, the focus of the commercial on this British man, in an expensive suit, with a bodyguard driving him in an escalade, elevates Cadbury’s chocolate to a luxury. Portraying the cocoa beans as hand selected by a chocolate specialist connotes this idea of rare uniqueness. Consumers are not necessarily concerned about Ghanaian farmers living on a low minimum wage who cannot afford a clean house, but demand authenticity and exclusivity in their chocolate, a demand that is fueling the chocolate industry.

This similar idea of exclusivity is also seen in the Divine Chocolate advertisements such as this one.

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This ad represents images of Ghana’s agricultural economy. In the background is a cocoa drying table, mud buildings, dusty roads. This suggests an authentic feel about chocolate being locally grown. Then you see a young woman, crisp, clear and shiny, posing in a beautiful dress, which is an expression of her ‘global fashion savvy’. By connecting the background to this beautiful woman, you associate the authenticity of a Ghanian cocoa farm to the cosmopolitan look of this woman holding up the final product of chocolate. This chocolate represents the special food that was made from the fruit that they grew and harvested. Although it is false that women cocoa farmers look this clean and crisp all the time, the message of this ad is to associate Ghana as the source for developing the highest quality chocolate. This relationship was also seen in Cadbury’s ad by relating the high-powered, clean-suit wearing British man, to the high quality of chocolate in Ghana.

Although we have the power to criticize advertisements for not revealing the truthful picture about where or how chocolate is sourced, consumers should also be responsible for having an interest in learning about these practices. Instead of associating the ideals of chocolate as a luxury and thus buying chocolate sourced from Ghana because it is advertised as the best quality, consumers should take a step back to learn and challenge the conditions of quality in which one’s chocolate bar originated.

References

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-139.

Frankel, Jeffrey. “Cocoa in Ghana: The Cocoa Farmers, the cocoa marketing board, and the elasticity of supply.” http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/jfrankel/cocoa_in_ghana.pdf

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